Scathing U.S. view of French unrest and Muslim integration in WikiLeaks
(Photo: Local youths watch firemen extinguish burning vehicles during clashes in the Paris suburb of Aulnay sur Bois, early November 3, 2005/Victor Tonelli)
The U.S. embassy in Paris turns out to be one of the sharpest critics of France's track record in integrating its Muslim minority. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now have its unvarnished view of the 2005 unrest in the poor suburbs of Paris and other large cities. It is a scathing indictment that goes beyond even what many of the government's domestic critics at the time were saying. It may also go beyond most if not all of the criticisms of domestic policy found in cables from other European capitals (has anyone found anything more devastating elsewhere?). Here is our overall news report on the cables. Some excerpts from the key cables are copied below.
For FaithWorld, it's especially interesting to see what the embassy says about "what the violence is not". Back in those days, some American media were throwing around terms like "Paris intifada" and "Muslim riots" as if Huntington's "clash of civilisations" had reached the outlying stations of the Paris Metro network. The cables are clearly written to refute that view. Yes, many of the rioters came from a Muslim background, but this was a socio-economic protest by a growing underclass, as we have argued in earlier posts such as "Smoke without fire - there was no 'Paris intifada' in 2005? and "Why we don't call them 'Muslim riots' in Paris suburbs."
(Photo: Hooded youths from poor suburbs of Paris taunt riot police during a nationwide protest against a youth jobs law, in Paris March 28, 2006/Jacky Naegelen)
If religion had to be brought into the issue, it would have to be mentioned as an underlying cultural background on both sides - something that French politicians and editorialists didn't do and don't like. But this cable did do that in one of its most striking quotes - "The real problem is the failure of white and Christian France to view their darker, Muslim compatriots as real citizens." As Le Monde put it: "The Americans' logic has never been explained in such transparent fashion."
It's interesting to see how the embassy links the social exclusion of the Muslim minority now with possible radicalisation of some Muslims in the future. The first of our three excerpts examines the security issue in August 2005, months before the banlieues (suburbs) erupted in protest.The second and third analyse the protests themselves.
Italics are our own, to highlight the main points in these excerpts:
PUTTING OUT BRUSHFIRES: FRANCE AND ISLAMIC EXTREMISM - August 17, 2005
Although confident with its "offensive" C/T strategy, France still struggles with integration
¶9. (U) ... Louis Caprioli, former head of the DST's counter-terrorism bureau (the DST is France's internal security service), said the French strategy emphasizes total cooperation between the security/police services and the specialized counter-terrorism judiciary. This allows for constant surveillance of suspects and a focus on maximum disturbance of Islamic extremists, hence the "offensive" nature of the strategy.
(Photo: An Islamist arms dump uncovered by police in Choisy-le-Roi, an eastern Paris suburb, containing a rocket-launcher, three machineguns, three riot guns,several pistols, 8,000 cartridges and equipment to make explosives, 28 Feb 1995/Stringer)
Alain Chouet, former head of the DGSE (France's external intelligence service), added that the presence of the RG throughout French territory allows for "permanent surveillance and penetration of problematic communities." Furthermore, said Chouet, "It is hard to imagine the Anglo-Saxon countries imitating our harassment tactics, which sometimes take place without any real proof of wrongdoing."
¶11. (SBU) Poloffs recently visited the northern Paris suburb of La Courneuve, which has recently become a living metaphor for violence and Islamic extremism in France... La Courneuve now features many large HLM (low-income housing projects). The streets are relatively wide and empty, with little street-level commerce aside from government services and larger supermarkets. No one background dominated and we saw no visible signs of an Islamic presence (we passed only one synagogue and no mosques). The suburb did not feel dangerous; instead it seemed more bleak and deserted than anything else... Its appearance confirmed what statistics report: the overwhelming majority of Muslims in France (whether from Africa, the Maghreb, or the newly converted) are moderate. The problem lies with the one or two apartments that harbour Islamic extremists hidden within the tens of thousands that do not.
¶12. (C) Comment: As is widely recognized, the GOF wields a muscular and effective counter-terrorism apparatus that identifies potential terrorists and thwarts potential terrorist operations. Although there is always room for improvement, the GOF appears to have done what it can in the short- and medium-term to combat Islamic extremism. Over the long-term, however, much work needs to be done.
(Image: La Courneuve marked in red, north of central Paris outlined by the circle in the middle of this map of the Greater Paris area)
France does not only have an integration/immigration problem; it must also work to give a place to Muslims in the French identity. Despite claims that its commitment to secularism nullifies prejudice against any religion, it is an open secret that historically Catholic France has heretofore failed to muster sufficient will and understanding to truly accept Muslims as French citizens. Although Islamic extremism may never completely disappear from France, acceptance of Muslims as full, participating members of French society will go a long way to minimizing its reach.
THE FRENCH INTEGRATION MODEL: GOING UP IN SMOKE? - November 9, 2005
What the Violence is Not
¶3. (C) The destruction of both public and private property has been enormous and often self-defeating, as the youths have targeted their own schools and gyms or their neighbors' vehicles. But it has fallen short of full-scale riots...
¶4. (C) Nor has the unrest taken on the tone of an intifada, despite the fact that a large portion of those responsible for the violence are of Muslim background. In fact, Muslim groups have played positive roles in trying to quell the violence.
¶5. (C) For the moment, the unrest is not viewed as specifically Muslim ... The issue is seen as a problem of disaffected ethnic minorities, not a local playing out of a clash of civilizations between Muslims and the West...
The French "Way" Questioned
¶6. (C) The recent upheaval has raised many questions within France about its "unitary" (as opposed to multicultural) integration model, as well as the social inequalities and racism that exist in French society... It is clear that the unrest playing out throughout France today is the result of decades of neglect by governments of both the left and right...
¶7. (C) ...The real problem is the failure of white and Christian France to view their darker, Muslim compatriots as real citizens. The cumulative effect has been the creation of a generation of young males lacking parental control and unequipped to secure and hold a job, even if they could break through the formidable barriers of prejudice faced by young Arabs and young blacks in particular.
¶9. (C) ... At present, the immigrant community is vastly underrepresented in all parties and barely represented
at all in official positions, from the mayoral through parliamentary and ministerial ranks in the French political
(Photo: Burnt out commercial centre in Evreux, west of Paris, November 6, 2005/Franck Prevel)
¶11. (C) ...The youths perpetrating the violence and vandalism - and the criminal groups that in some cases are manipulating them - are present in every poor suburb, and no amount of policing will preventively keep them completely in check. While responsible leaders across the political spectrum agree that France must do more to integrate its more recent immigrants, agreeing is not the same as doing. The recent wave of unrest has publicly and embarrassingly exposed France's deep social inequalities, reminding the broader public of the persistence of France's large, probably growing underclass ...
¶12. (C) ... It will also be a challenge to change deeply ingrained negative attitudes towards non-white immigrants. However, not to make the effort would squander a crucial opportunity to significantly enhance the well-being and prospects of a disaffected Muslim underclass before it becomes politically radicalized.
ANALYZING THE CIVIL UNREST - THE ISLAMIC FACTOR - November 17, 2005
No direct links to Islamic extremism
¶2. (C) ... Christophe Chaboud, head of the Ministry of Interior's counter-terrorism coordination body (known by its French acronym - UCLAT), categorically reconfirmed to PolOff on November 15, "we (the GoF) have not found any link between Islamic extremists and those fomenting the unrest. He acknowledged that police and internal intelligence organizations have received "a few" signs that some Islamic extremists have participated in the violence. That said, he believed that they were acting as individuals and not as members of a coordinated, Islamic group.
Fears of extremist and criminal exploitation
¶3. (C) Chaboud reported that GoF monitoring of websites and blogs (in France and abroad) nonetheless reveals that extremists are trying to exploit the unrest to their advantage, claiming (for example) that it results from GOF attempts to control and muzzle Islam in France...
¶15. (SBU) The gangs of underclass youths who are the perpetrators of the car burnings and urban violence in France are not Islamists, nor are they at all motivated by religion. It is highly misleading to characterize them - as is often done in media coverage - as "insurgent" and "Muslim" youths. The anger felt by these youths stems from how they are trapped and without a future - facing pervasive racial prejudice, and without the skills and education needed to get-a-life of employment and conventional respect.
(Photo: Suburban youths march for two teenagers killed in a collision with a police car in Villiers le Bel, north of Paris, November 29, 2007/Regis Duvignau)
¶16. (SBU) That said, the dominant religion in France's low-income housing projects affected by the recent violence is Islam, and there are those intent on "saving" these communities from their social ills by re-founding them on religious, as opposed to secular, principles, in effect filling the vacuum where French republican values have failed to take root. Whether or not Islamic organizations and fundamentalist proselytizing will make significant inroads among the inhabitants of France's immigrant suburbs of course depends on the effectiveness of the GOF's social programs and the willingness of French society at large to face up to its pervasive prejudices against Blacks and Arabs.